Stillwater News Press

May 25, 2013

Hans Rudolf Bilger

Stillwater NewsPress

— Hans R. Bilger, 78, passed away on Wednesday, May 15, 2013, at the UW Hospital in Madison, Wisc.  He is survived by his wife of almost 55 years, Edeltraut, their five children and their spouses, and 11 grandchildren: Martin and Traci, daughter Chloe; Eva and Mike, children Emma, Madeleine, and Ian; Monika and Chuck, children Sofia, Cecily, and Kai; Burkhard and Jennifer, children Hans, Ruby, and Evangeline; Andrea and Jim, daughter Magdalena. He was preceded in death by his parents, Martin and Elisabeth, and by his younger brother Gerhard.

Hans was born in Singen, in southern Germany, in 1935. He grew up in the village of Efringen-Kirchen and attended the Hans Thoma-Gymnasium in Lörrach. He married Edeltraut Gönner, his classmate of nine years, in 1958. Three years later, he received a PhD in physics from the University of Basel, Switzerland.  

In 1962, Hans moved with his young family to the United States, accepting a position as research associate at the University of Illinois at Urbana. In the fall of 1963, he joined Oklahoma State University’s Department of Electrical Engineering as assistant professor, beginning a 34-year career at OSU. He loved teaching, and took pride in his students’ achievements.

Thanks to the support of Bill Hughes, his department head, Hans was able to alternate teaching in Oklahoma with research in different parts of the world:  Argonne National Laboratory, Caltech, Raytheon, the Nuclear Research Center in Karlsruhe, Germany, the University of Montpellier in France and the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.  His family enjoyed these opportunities to live and travel in the U.S. and abroad.

Hans’s scientific interests focused on noise and optics, and in the 1980s he was inspired to build large ring lasers that could detect subtle movement with high precision, and might be used to detect gravitational waves. An exciting collaboration with researchers in New Zealand began in 1986, and resulted in the construction of a highly sensitive prototype in Christchurch. Hans went on to design a 16m ring laser that was built in Wettzell, Germany, and was used to measure the earth’s rotation rate — without reference to celestial bodies — to six digits. In 2012, at the age of 77, he contributed a detailed description of his ring laser work and its theoretical underpinnings to Wikipedia.  

Hans always took great joy in his large family. He loved taking them sailing on Lake Carl Blackwell and Lake McMurtry, playing table tennis and watching soccer matches. He was always ready for a game of Skat.  The family fondly remembers summer evenings when they sang around the campfire on the Nottingham lot in Stillwater, and Christmas evenings at home, as Papa accompanied us with his harmonica.

The family would like to thank the physicians and nurses at St. Mary’s Renal Center and at UW Health for their dedication and kindness to Hans in the last months of his life.   

A special thank you to Sr. Pamela, who shared memories of OSU and Argonne with Hans and who has been a warm support and comfort to us.

A memorial service will be planned for later this summer.

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Call Cress Funeral & Cremation Service, 3610 Speedway Road, 608-238-8406.   Please share a memory at